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Thoughts on Labour’s strike - Tunde Asaju

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How could one conscientiously ask that organized labour shelve its demand for a raise in average pay? The price of bread does not wait for pay raise to move up. Landlords do not wait for pay raise to increase rents. Taxi drivers do not wait for pay raise to jerk up their fares. Each of these economic actors would raise prices the moment a new minimum wage is announced. Government does nothing to cushion the effect of rising cost on the bottom line.

A look at the civil service reveals a system where senior officers with less need earn more than the junior and middle-level workers who are raising young families and could do with the extra. Ours is not a society where taxation looks at your income and rewards your diligence with returns. For every salaried employee, there is a minimum of ten or twenty dependents.  What a publicized minimum wage does to their bottom line is not increase their buying power, but the level of demand on their new wage.

 

Strikes in themselves only lead to a token increment but forces market forces to present a bucket list of new demands. In theory, the worker is supposed to be happy with the raise, but in practice they are poorer for it. This is reason enough to either freeze pay or break organized labour’s hegemony on the nation state. This sounds pretty unprogressive, but it may be the best resolve. It is based on the realization that political actors would never willingly reduce their pay and perks in the national economic interest. They have reasons.

Politricians need foot soldiers on their road to elective office. Those recruits enlist in the hope of gaining something after victory. When a ‘winner’ fails to deliver, they become very dangerous enemies. As anyone knows, quondam friends are capable of doing incalculable damage than known foes.

 

Advanced societies do not give room for the kind of agitation of organized labour hegemony that leads to national paralysis. Employment is a contract between the employer and their employee. In these societies, workers are categorized into two – salaried and contractual. Workers apply for and agree to work for a specific pay commensurate to their qualification and experience. The agreement is subject to review based on pre-determined level of performance.

Every worker is on a contract, but contracts differ in their nuances. A salaried worker works for specific consideration. Most contractual employees are paid a hourly wage. Perks and remunerations are as contained in the contract of employment. This stratification prevents organized labour to shut down an entire country. Both organized labour and employers need a running country to thrive.

In developed climes, when government workers threaten strikes in the midst of a negotiation, government in turn invokes a back-to-work legislation to prevent paralysis. This prevents the complete grounding of the nation. It’s time we look into these practices as a means of improving on governance and national survival. This makes organized labour exist for more than fighting for wages, but be productively engaged in job-creation. In some nations, organized labour invests heavily in the economy and as participant, it accepts that it is never in its collective interest to ground the economy.

Our country’s unemployment rate is incredibly high. Although every incumbent government claims it has programmes to reduce this; Nigeria has no established social hassocks to mitigate this. Organized nations have instutionalized social security system. The current regime reels out statistics of beneficiaries of its so-called unemployment reduction programmes. Trouble is, beneficiaries are few and far to locate. Other palliatives are usually not well thought out. For instance, where an unemployed gains access to a government-run poverty-alleviation scheme, extant rules put stumbling blocks in place.

We give no room to the so-called roadside vulcanizer to thrive. The official excuse is that a vehicle could crush them. We frown at street trading but have given no impetus for its replacement with mobile neighbourhood market that is popular in some western countries. During elections, we do whatever it takes to woo voters, most of whom are in the lower echelons of society but once in government, we wage war against their subsistence. There is an inferiority complex that births the war against the low-class. There’s almost an unwritten code for their annihilation. The governor that is quick to parade his Harvard, Oxford et al credentials has no blueprint for bringing his state to the level of the societies he boasts about, but they are eager to have clean streets even if it means annihilating the low class eking out a living there.

Governments that claim incapacitation to pay the minimum wage have not reduced their long convoys where a trek is healthier both to them and the economy. The spend more to commission bridges and drainages. They have a retinue of indolent appointees with the most ridiculous titles that are a drain on governance. We have offices with huge budgets, salary and overheads that bring absolutely nothing to the table of governance. There are political actors drawing pension and salary at the same time and at the expense of the state.

This strike perhaps warranted; is too costly for our nation to sustain. The challenge is to find new ways to make governance and labour co-exist for national socio-economic survival.

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